Pope Francis calls for prayer amid coronavirus crisis

Pope Francis called for worldwide prayer to tackle the coronavirus crisis

in his Angelus message on Sunday (March 22).

The Pope has been delivering the message via the internet and TV from inside the Vatican

instead of in front of crowds in St Peter's Square.

(SOUNDBITE) (Italian) POPE FRANCIS SAYING:"We want to respond to the pandemic of the virus with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness. Let us stay united and make our closeness be heard, our closeness to the loneliest people and those who are suffering the most. Let us express our closeness to all doctors, medical staff, nurses and volunteers. Let us express our to the authorities, who have to take harsh measures for our sake. Let us express our closeness to the police, the soldiers that have to maintain order on the streets and ensure that the government's measures are followed, for the greater good. I express my closeness to everybody. I also wish to express my closeness to the Croatian people, hit by an earthquake this morning. Lord, give them the strength and solidarity to face this calamity."

The Pope will deliver a special blessing on Friday evening.

Popes ordinarily deliver the special blessings only twice a year - on Christmas and Easter - and his decision to make an exception shows the gravity of the pandemic.

Catholics who receive the blessing, either in person or via the media, can, under certain conditions, receive a special indulgence--

remission of punishment for sins.